Companies’ Social Media Policies Can Violate Labor Laws

Company Social Media PoliciesEven modest-sized businesses with relatively small numbers of people on their employee payroll are crafting policies regarding their workers’ use of social media. Companies that don’t yet have a social media policy should probably write one sooner rather than later, because services like Facebook , Twitter and Google+ are so pervasive in our society today. The sphere of social media is certain to only get bigger and more important in the near future.

Business owners or human resources staff who develop company social media policies should exercise caution, however. Earlier this year, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a set of guidelines indicating that some provisions commonly found in corporate social media policies could be found to be in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The general counsel’s guidelines are non-binding legal opinions, not law or regulations, but companies should take heed.

Many of the suspect provisions in social media policies are meant to restrict communication that could reflect negatively on the employer. However, the NLRB sees such rules not only as restricting free speech in general, but as possible attempts to curb unionizing activities. Here are some employee social media rules that could be the basis for legal action:

  • Barring employees from “friending” each other, or even suggesting that employees should be hesitant or careful in doing so
  •  Prohibiting employees from discussing their working conditions or wages on social media sites (although employees responsible for payroll administration obviously cannot violate the confidentiality of the company or other employees)
  •  Prohibiting employees from talking about or criticizing the company, or from discussing legal matters that they might have pending with the company
  •  Banning indecent or inflammatory language, or barring discussion of controversial or inflammatory topics
  •  Prohibiting employees from talking to the press via social media
  • Ordering employees not to talk about other employees on social media (except that anti-cyberbullying and anti-harassment policies are allowed)
  • Completely banning the use of social media in the workplace, even in non-work hours and non-work areas
  • Requiring company approval before an employee can identify where he or she works on social media accounts
  • Banning the use of company logos, trademarks, photos and videos in social media posts

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